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Group Trains LGBTQ Youth To Advocate for Themselves

The stereo was pumping: “You show the lights that stop me … You shine it when I’m alone and so I tell myself that I’ll be strong …”

And the youth of FIERCE—with their mohawks, body-piercings, skinny jeans and assorted other signatures of personal style—were dancing to the beat. They sang along with to Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” sometimes “vogue-ing” in the tradition of their gay and transgender elders who demanded back in the 1980s that city officials rebuild Pier 45. Pier 45 was their dance floor that summer evening. Ever since it was rebuilt, it’s been a safe gathering place for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer people, or, as they call themselves, the LGBTQ community.

Even recreation such as FIERCE’s “Artistic Night” at Pier 45 become opportunities for members of Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment to share concerns, support each other and learn how to advocate on their own behalf as LGBTQ youth of color.

“We use the collective knowledge in the room to understand the systems of oppression,” said Ellen “Manny” Vaz, communications director for FIERCE, which started in 2000.

Since then, it has gained notice by, for example, taking its causes directly to the White House.

“Mic check! Mic check! … Tell President Obama, a message from us queers. We want justice for our people … “

That’s what FIERCE members belted from the back of the room earlier this year as they disrupted a conference in Washington, D.C.

They also are pushing New York City officials to name October as LGBTQ “youth empowerment month.”

Several FIERCE members attended Community Board 2’s July 23 meeting, where a plan to remake Pier 40, which is right next to Pier 45, into luxury condominiums was on the agenda. FIERCE opposes the plan, fearing that private developers eventually will want to build  luxury real estate at Pier 45, too.

“It drives costs up for every one,” Vaz said. “For LGBTQ youth, the cost, potentially, could be our space. If you talk to your youth, they’ll say this space saved many of their lives.”

By that, she means FIERCE members know what previous activists did to make Pier 45 what it is. Youth gather there to strategize, relax, socialize and so on with people who are like them.

“I joined because it’s way different than a lot of other organizations,” said Tiph Brown, a junior photojournalism major at Howard University who is home in New York City for the summer. “It definitely helped me build my leadership skills and gave me the ability to see where my political voice is.”

She has been a member of FIERCE since 2008. “It is my second home,” Brown said of the organization, whose headquarters are in Chelsea.

From its West 24th Street offices, FIERCE also runs such programs as a four-week, leadership program that graduates 15 to 20 members at a time. The young leaders focus on racism, homophobia and transphobia and how to combat those stigmas.

Right now, the organization is creating its next three-year plan for advocacy and protest. FIERCE’s members  are responsible for steering that conversation.

“The youth,” Vaz said, “are at the heart and leadership of the organization.”

On Twitter @Kiara_Cristina.


Businesses: We Didn’t Enlist With Anti-Bloomberg “Beverage Choices”

At a City Hall rally, businesses protested Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized, sugary beverages.

Some businesses that are listed as members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, which opposes Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized sugary drinks, do not know exactly how they got on that roster.

“We do not take a stand on issues like this,” said John Bonomo, spokesman for Verizon, which is listed on the beverage choices Web site. “I called the organization to take us down.”

“I’m not sure why … somebody put us on there,” said David Urbanos, operating manager of The Ginger Man, a Midtown Manhattan restaurant.

“Maybe the owner heard about it, but not me,” said Larry Lum, manager of
Sushi Sen-Nin, also a Midtown restaurant.

However, Eliot Hoff, spokesman for the beverage group, said no businesses were signed up without their permission. “Somebody with the authority did hear about the coalition. We just don’t sign up businesses. They have to sign up themselves,” said Hoff, adding that supporters could sign-up directly on the Web or with in-person canvassers hired by the organization.


Leaders of the beverage group, which hosted a Monday rally at City Hall, said they have 90,000 individual and 1,300 business supporters. At the rally, people waved banners and chanted in opposition to Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale sugary drinks weighing more than 16 ounces at establishments inspected and ranked by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“We are outraged by the mayor’s proposal to ban sugar-sweetened beverages,” Liz Berman, owner of Continental Food and Beverage and regional chairwoman for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, addressing those at the rally. “We’ve talked to business owners. We have been advocating with business owners [concerning] how they are impacted.”

Joe Vitta, secretary-treasurer of Local 812 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also spoke at the rally, which drew food industry workers, food and beverage distributors, City Council members and union members.

“If the ban was instituted, it would have a devastating effect on sales in our industry,” Vitta said. “If sales are reduced, then so is the need [for] production workers. It will result in temporary and permanent layoffs.”

City Council Daniel Halloran, who also addressed the rally, said losing the ability to sell the larger drinks will cut into distributor profits and, in turn, distributors might make up those losses by increasing prices on beverages weighing less than 16 ounces.

Countering those claims, Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said businesses may adjust their prices to offset any increases passed onto them by distributors. “If … you would like to sell [large drinks], you can simply just sell two 16-ounce drinks for the same price [as a larger drink] easily,” Lavorgna said. “They set the price in their store.”


Lavorgna also said that businesses are not the focal point. “The ones paying the consequences are children that are becoming obese,” Lavorgna said, and a “primary driver of that are sugary drinks.”

Studies from several of the nation’s leading researchers have proven the link between excessive sugar intake and obesity.
Nevertheless, Halloran said a beverage ban is not the solution. “Do we want our kids fit? Of course we do. The first way we do that is by making sure that every school has gym,” Halloran told those rally.

Halloran also said the city needs to provide more resources for parks: “We need money to ensure the track fields are there, to ensure the basketball courts are playable, the tennis courts are playable. Where’s the money for those resources?”

Lavorgna countered, saying that Bloomberg has presided over one of the largest expansions of city parks since Robert Moses. “The soda ban is one component of the mayor’s agenda but it’s an important one,” he said.


Wendy Gomez, 26, is one New Yorker who opposes the proposed ban. As she waited in front of the Regal Union Square multiplex, she said she consumes regularly consumes sugary drinks. “America was not founded on socialism and this is a socialist act,” Gomez said.

Shelly Omar, 35, disagreed. She spoke while sitting in Bagel Café-Ray’s Pizza on St. Marks Place. “There are a lot of super-sized things. If you super-size everything, the customers will be super-sized as well.”

“I Felt Trapped In My Old Body”

Born a girl, Jacinto Peter Medina is in the process of becoming a man. This is part of his story, as told to Kiara Ventura, a Spectrum staff writer.

I hate the cliché, “feeling trapped in this body.” But that is how I felt as a girl who was supposed to be a boy. I felt claustrophobic in this body.

Over a year ago, I started hormone therapy to make me who I am supposed to be. Before the hormone therapy, I began counseling. That helps you to discover, rediscover and uncover things.  Because I have multiple sclerosis, my neurologist also had to say it was OK to start the hormone treatment. At first, the intramuscular injections made me emotionally volatile but they regulated it and now I’m calmer.

In the surgery, some transgender people get just the top done; some people get the bottom. How my body parts are changing is too personal for me to talk about. But my body has changed. My voice has dropped. I’m excited.

I’m at this gender-ambiguous stage. Sometimes I am not read as 100 percent male and sometimes I am. Before, I would come through a door and a male would hold the door open for me. Now, it’s “fend for yourself,” though sometimes I am still read as female.

So, now that I’m a trans-man, I’m different mentally. Suppressing who I am for such a long time, it takes a lot of work. You get tired.

I know this is not just a transition for me; it’s also a transition for my family. I took a long time to tell my family. My mom was trying to understand and she kept saying, “Whatever makes you happy.” My dad was asking my mom how she felt. He cried a little bit. They call me “Jahi” because my name was Jahida. When I told my father he said, “So, no more ‘Jahi?’”

I said, “I’m still the same person inside.”

I’ve changed my name to Jacinto Peter Medina, and changed it with legal documents. I wish I could wear a little name tag saying, “He.”

You want your outside to match what’s in your mind. Being transgender, I just feel normal. I just want to live my life. I just wanted to be happy.

On Twitter @Kiara_Cristina.

Ancient Jewish Rite-of-Passage Gets Overhaul

A rabbi and bar mitzvah candidate read the Torah.

Clerics and scholars at two major Jewish institutions are testing a project aimed at reshaping the bar mitzvah so that is marks more of a beginning than an ending of personal interest in and study of Judaism.

Being a graduation “is not what a bar mitzvah was designed to do,” Anna Marx, of the Manhattan-based Jewish Education Project, said via telephone from her office in New Orleans.

Continuing to explain The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution, a two-year pilot project announced last May and officially launching in November, she said, “In its observance, the bar mitzvah was not supposed to be an endpoint, it was a beginning of a person’s adult journey.”

B’nai Mitzvah Revolution is a joint endeavor of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a seminary with campuses in Cincinnati,Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York City’s East Village, and the Union for Reform Judaism, in Midtown Manhattan.

Those who created the project are trying to keep the tradition, which traces back to the Middle Ages, from being just a few months of intensively studying Hebrew traditions and language but, afterward, being uninvolved in the Jewish faith.

“The idea is to think about ways to make sure more and more young people stay involved in Jewish life after their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. The bar mitzvah experience itself is leading people out of the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, co-director of the project and newly appointed director of youth engagement for the Union

To help inspire Jews to stay devoted to Judaism, the Mitzvah Revolution begins with workshops in November with participants from synagogues across the country brainstorming on ways to revise bar and bat mitzvahs. As one example of how to reshape things, leaders said 13-year-olds preparing for the ritual might also volunteer with a service organization while learning Jewish scriptures and chants they recite during the ceremony. That sense of charity, leaders hope, will remain with the teens long after the ritual is over.

Narrowly focusing on only the Torah does a disservice for those preparing for the bar or bat mitzvah, Marx said, and diminishes the purpose of the rite itself. “Synagogues started requiring a number of prayers the children had to know,” she added, rather than focusing on how to become a concrete part of the Jewish community.

“We’re looking for synagogues [that] are committed to significant change, and that have had experience with change processes in the past,” Rabbi Solmsen said. “Each synagogue needs to figure out what solutions will work for them. This will not be a national model where everyone is going to do the same thing.”

On Twitter @AlexRozier1.

Store Operators Ponder Impact of Digitized Comic Books



Comic bookstore owners are hoping a mobile application designed by industry giant Marvel Comics will, as proposed, not run those who sell printed editions of comic books out of business.

At the April 2012 release of the app, designed for Marvel by online comics distributor ComiXology, Marvel officials said a digital library could entice those who download digital versions to also venture into stores to view and buy the printed editions.

Mitch Cutler, manager of St. Mark’s Comics on St. Marks Street and Third Avenue in the East Village, is among those who are waiting to see what will happen and whether, as Marvel contends, the growing popularity of Kindle, Nook and other e-readers will be good for sales of digital and print comics. Marvel’s digital library now includes 3,500 comic books.

“Certainly, there are people who are afraid of it,” Cutler said, referring to the digital library. “But the ultimate impact is not yet able to be determined.”

New digital downloads will cost $2.99 to $3.99, roughly the same as what is charged for printed comics. But the price of digital versions will decline as an issue ages, which is the opposite of what happens with printed comic books. The older they get, the higher their price, as long as the books are in good condition.

Vincent Zurzolo, 41, owner of Metropolis Collectibles on Broadway near 18th Street, said he’s already a believer in this new digital enterprise. “People are busy in today’s world and they don’t want to go to comic stores on a weekly basis,” said Zurzolo, adding that he enjoys both versions of comics. “They don’t want to travel to buy trade paperbacks as much as before. I think that digital comic books will take the lead in the future.”

Annual sales of print comics were roughly $600 million from 2009 to 2012, according to Venture Beat, which tracks trends in technology. During the same period, sales of digital comics rose from $1 million to $25 million, according to ICv2, which tracks pop culture trends, including the comics.

“With new comics like Marvel’s ‘X-Men vs. Avengers’ and DC Comic’s ‘52’ series, there is a stir in the comic book industry,” Zurzolo said, also citing long lines of comics fans waiting to buy the 100th issue of “The Walking Dead” during 2012 Comic-Con International.

Walking Dead, which is about post-apocalypse zombies, became a television show, proving that comics, overall, are still popular, Zurzolo said.

Even if digital comic sales exceed print sales, Zurzolo said he knows there are many die-hard fans of old-fashioned, printed books. “The tactile sensation that we get when reading print comics is integral to the comic experience,” said Zurzolo, adding that he began reading comic books when he was 3 years old.

In Cutler’s opinion, many customers also like interacting with comic book store employees who are versed in the industry and particular comic book series. That would help printed comic books remain in existence, he said.

“Customers say, ‘I want some more,’” Cutler said. “But, now, you can’t get that unless you go to a comic book store. So, in the end, digital comics are simply a feeder for us.”

On Twitter @JacobChoi2.

Muralist Prefers Making Art For Public Viewing

When Strand, one of New York City’s oldest bookstores, invited muralist Michael Fumero to paint on one of its exterior walls, his first response was, “This is cool.”

Then, from roof to sidewalk at that East Village location, he brushed on shades of red, yellow, green, blue and light flesh tones to create an animated face that, at its widest, is six feet. He is, Fumero said, fascinated with human anatomy.

His inspirations for outside art come from various places, including comics, cartoons and the everyday things that families do. “The kitchen table, that’s where everything happened” in his own family, Fumero said.

Fumeroism is what he calls his art, said the high school teacher, asking that his employer not be disclosed. The people at Strand found about Fumero through another artist they had contracted to also paint murals painted on the same outside wall. “There’s just something about having an outdoor gallery,” said Jessica Strand, 45, the bookstore’s spokeswoman. Strand wanted something that was descriptive and fun, “a changing wall.”

Fumero is pleased to be part of that public exhibition, whose unveiling was timed to coincide with the March 2012 release of photographer Hank O’Neal’s book, “XCIA’s Street Art Project.”

Creating art in unconventional places is a big plus for Fumero, who started painting pedestrians can easily see in 2006. In addition to the Strand store on West 12th Street and Broadway, his murals also are on the Lower East Side and in the Bronx, among other places. “I’m presenting it as a movement, a one-man movement,” he said. “I’m trying to do what I do on canvas and bring it to the people.”

Fumero said he is less interested in whether people actually like his paintings than in making sure his work evokes some kind of emotion. “I do what I do regardless of public opinion. However, public opinion—when it’s positive—is always a good thing,” he said.

Doing street art is less intimidating for Fumero than showing in a gallery, where the pressure to draw a crowd and to sell art is greater. “Don’t take it the wrong way; I’m not bashing galleries, but people get blocked [from the art marketplace] because of galleries,” Fumero said.

Though he teaches art and earned a master’s degree in art education from Kean University in Union, N.J., Fumero said he tries not be high and lofty about what he does. He doesn’t know everything about the subject of art. “You don’t need to know all of the art terminology,” he said, or to follow any other seeming rules of the art.

“I don’t date my canvas because, then, it’s not fresh anymore,” said Fumero, reiterating his pleasure at being an outdoors painter. “I love it. You’re on common ground with the art.”

On Twitter @ColemanKimmy.

Organization Fixes Bikes, Grooms Youth Workers

With loose chains, pedals, bike frames and other tools of her trade hanging above her head, Natalie Feliciano, 21, was fixing a flat tire.

“You don’t see a lot of female mechanics,” said Feliciano, who, at 16, started out as an intern at the East Village branch of Recycle-A-Bicycle and stayed put.

Her bosses are proud to say that Feliciano, now an assistant manager, is part of the Recycle-A-Bicycle family. They fix bikes. They also try to steer youth onto a solid path. From locations in Brooklyn, Queens and the East Village, Recycle-A-Bicycle hosts several community-based programs. There’s the Kids Ride Club, Green Jobs Training Program and internships designed to teach 14- to 18-year-olds bike mechanics, a strong work ethic and workplace etiquette.

“If you can figure out a bicycle, you can figure out other problems and situations,” said Brendon Brogan, 26, head mechanic at Recycle-A-Bicycle’s East Village branch.

Getting hired at Recycle-A-Bicycle provided then 16-year-old Feliciano, whose parents were short on cash, to buy her own cell phone. In general, for many interns who live near the Avenue C address, which is near an East Village public housing development, the program provides them with a place to go and earn a positive experience. “It shows them the right path and to do something constructive with their life, instead of hanging out on the streets all day. It allows them to interact with other people from all over the states,” she said.

Mechanic Brogan is from Detroit and attended arts school in Minneapolis. Their commercial customers also hail from many places. The interns, including Aron Helfet, 15, come from all five boroughs of New York City.

“I do a lot of riding and I used to ride to school every day, so why not learn how to fix my own bike?” said Aron, a resident of the Upper West Side and one of the shop’s summer 2012 interns. “I figured I would get more, real hands on work experience here than I would in a retail store.”

Brogan is glad to hear that. The internship, he said, “gives them confidence: working with their hands, problem solving and dealing with people.”

For Feliciano, those are thing that make her job “awesome … It’s pretty chill here. Not many people work here, so we’re all really close. There’s a family vibe,” Feliciano said.

She has had a steady stream of work. Over the past year alone, Recycle-A-Bicycle has refurbished 500 bikes, some donated and some salvaged from local dumps. Salvaging 1,200 old bikes removed 36,000 pounds of metal, rubber and other bicycle materials from the waste stream, group leaders said.

The Kids Ride Club, in total, pedaled 10,000 miles and, according to the group’s calculations, burned more than 1.5 million calories. Recycle-A-Bicycle has attracted its share of supporters, including the patrons who buy the bikes that are donated to the organization, then stripped, re-chained, re-treaded, oiled, painted and sold back to riders.

Twentysomething East Village shop manager Patrick Tomeny, who wouldn’t give his exact age, describes Recycle-A-Bicycle as a movement that goes above and beyond.

“What I really like about Recycle-A-Bicycle is the way it transcends boundaries,” Tomeny said. “We work with students from all walks of life, and teach them a skill that almost every student appreciates.

“While most students treat what they learn casually, other students really get into the culture. But, regardless of how they approach what they learn, they are learning good skills that can be applied in other areas of their lives.  Bicycles are for everyone.”

On Twitter @MayaEHarris.

New Anti-AIDS Initiative Targets Young, Straight Males of Color

To slow the spread of HIV/AIDS by and among young, heterosexual males of color and encourage them to engage in a more public conversation about the disease, a Harlem-based group with citywide reach has launched its Young Men’s Initiative.

During its inaugural daylong Young’s Men Summit, a July 21 workshop series, group leaders and some of the targeted 13- to 24-year-old males explored topics ranging from the basics of sexual health to how to better communicate with potential and actual sexual partners.

Poor communication, said Vanessa Ramalho, a program coordinator for the initiative, “limits the effectiveness of prevention for young women [who are] … in a room with their partner who’s on a completely different page. They don’t know how to talk to their [male] partners about it.”

Or, as conference attendee Joshua Morgan,19, put it: “We’re not communicating. We’re fornicating.”

And that means everyone involved risks getting infected.

Project K.I.S.S., based at Weill Cornell-New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Pediatric Center for Special Studies, and the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition created the Young’s Men Initiative. This program is designed to inform 13- to 24-year-old males about the dangers of the disease; provide a setting for them to have their concerns and opinions heard; and develop more HIV/AIDS programming specifically for minority men and boys.

“There are lots of programs to combat HIV/AIDS for women and the LGBT community,” said Kymsha Henry, a co-director for the young women’s coalition, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gendered people. “People aren’t looking at them [enough.] We want to get the conversation started.”

The CDC estimates that 1.2 million people are HIV-infected in the United States, and 20 percent of those do not know they are infected. In the fight against HIV/AIDS, males of color are a key demographic group. While much of earlier anti-AIDS efforts and research focused on homosexual men, the Young Men’s Initiative is one among several recent campaigns aimed at straight males and, consequently, their female counterparts. Black women, for example, ranked second behind gay men of all races in new HIV infections in 2009, the most recent year for which the federal Centers for Disease Control have tabulated that data. Heterosexual black men, heterosexual Hispanic women, and heterosexual white women, in that order, trailed black women in the number of infections.

The relative silences of young heterosexual males about HIV/AIDS only contribute to the problem, said Derrick Weekes, a project administrator of the Family, Adolescents and Children’s Experience, which runs an HIV/AIDS clinic at State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. Often, men “just don’t ask for help. We feel we’re invincible,” said Weekes, who attended the summit.

Many men of color hesitate to even be tested for AIDS, said Reggie Jenkins, outreach specialist with Housing Works, which provides housing, health and other services to HIV/AIDS clients. “The girl will get tested, and the guy won’t,” said Jenkins, who administered HIV blood tests at the summit. They are “afraid of the stigma.”

Some young men are unwilling to even discuss the possibility of contracting the disease, said attorney Angelo Pinto of Arthur Ashe Urban Health Institute in Brooklyn. Many young men falsely believe that admission will make them appear less masculine. “The first thing they identify as is a man,” said Pinto, whose clients include men in prison, where AIDS rates are disproportionately high, and they fear anything that might detract from that.

“They’re expected to start having sex earlier and with more women” as a sign of their masculinity, Ramalho added. “Their social expectations have really collided with their individual concerns” about health.

The young males at the summit did address some of those concerns and were allowed to bring up whatever related topics they chose.

If he ever did contract HIV/AIDS, said Richard Rivera, 19, he’s not sure how he would respond. “I, for one,” Rivera said, would fear “being rejected. And I think that’s most guys’ main fear, being rejected by girls.”

More candor about the topic between males and females could counteract some of those fears, teen attendee Joshua Morgan said. “We really don’t know each other till we sit down and talk to each other.”

Talking sometimes does yield the desired results, said Meaghan Brennan, a Project K.I.S.S. (Know Your Status. Inform Your Partners. Stay Safe.) peer advocate and workshop leader. She shared what happened after a group of boys and young men spent five months, beginning in 2011, pondering masculinity and sexuality. When one of the newest members of that group defended Chris Brown’s admitted beating of Rihanna, “all the other guys stood up and were, like, ‘That’s not cool. What if it happened to your sister? Why do you care if it’s your sister, but you don’t care if it’s this other girl?’ It was just really amazing.”

“I didn’t really realize,” she added, “we had come so far.”

On Twitter @NYCAndrewChang.

Washington Square Fountain Doubles As Popular Wading Pool

If you’re walking into Washington Square Park on a hot day, chances are you’ll notice people cooling down in the fountain that is the centerpiece of that 9.75-acre public space.

So, is it a scenic fountain, a pool for splashing around or a little bit of both?

The Washington Square fountain has the distinction of being the only New York City park where frolicking in the water isn’t against the law. Visitors do take advantage of the free fun.

“If I had the proper clothes I would not hesitate to jump in,” said
Taron Pannel, 20, a club promoter from the Bronx. He was handing out flyers to passersby and looking on as his cousin, Ezekiel Morman, 14, waded in the water with his pants rolled up.

“Swimming in a pool is something basic,” Pannel said. “Swimming in this fountain is not only outside the box, but you are enjoying the outside
New York City atmosphere.”

There are other ways to beat the heat, including city-run pools. But they costs money.

“Unlike a pool, this is a free and simple way for the girls to have
fun,” said babysitter Amy Farley, 27, who watched while her charges, Sophia, 7, and Gianna, 6, played in the fountain. “It’s free and close by making it convenientfor me to give the girls a good time.”

Because she isn’t their mom, Farley, did not give the girls’ last name.

Because the fountain is a popular place to wade, New York City parks official are mindful of public health and hygiene issues. It kills algae and other slippery or potentially dangerous organisms by regularly pouring bromine in the water, according to ABCNews.com.

As part of a multi-year park renovation that began in 2007, the original fountain was reconstructed and placed on one level to make it more accessible to people, according to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Web site. It reopened in 2009.

Wading teen Ezekiel Morman said he believes opening up access was a good idea. “The pool is better because it has deeper water,” Ezekiel said. But they fountain is better for a quick cool-down.

“The water feels good,” said Janyah Tate, 15, from Brooklyn. She was in the fountain for the first time on a recent day, and spending time with her cousin, Qua-Asia Fawcett, 21, a New York University student. “It’s better than a pool,” said Fawcett, who goes to Washington Square Park three times a week. “And it’s a landmark …”

On Twitter @NierahJinwright.

After 500 Years, Martial Art Created By Slaves Still Survives


Returning to capoeira, the martial art she practiced as a teen-ager, was Marie Dasilveira’s way of getting closer to Brazil, which is her home country and the place where capoeira was born.


Her search was strategic, said Dasilveira, 26, who signed up earlier this year for classes at Capoeira Brasil in Manhattan’s West Village, mostly because its teacher and leader, a fellow Brazilian, is on an international list of who’s who in capoeira.


“She’s very famous,” Dasilveira said of Katia Colibri, 36. “She’s great at improvising. And that’s how people know you, by the level of your game.”


Fame, however, was never her objective, said Colibri, whose main, paying job is cleaning houses in New York City.


“Capoeira is a philosophy of life,” capoeirista Colibri said, as Dasilveira translated her teacher’s Portuguese into English. “And when you give into it, you realize your entire life revolves around it.”


Capoiera is what slaves, without guns, knives and other weapons, created as “a rebellion … They were training to fight but the people who were watching couldn’t tell what they were doing,” Colibri said.


They wanted their bodies to be their weapons in a war for freedom that never happened in Brazil. That South American country had more slaves—including some of Colibri’s forbears—than any other slave-holding nation. Slavery was outlawed in Brazil in 1888.


That is some of the history shared through Capoeira Brasil, which puts its skill on display in places such as Washington Square Park on weekends when the weather allows. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the group holds classes in a rented West Village studio.


Najemba, who declined repeated requests for her last name, is one student. A black woman, she is intrigued by the black roots of capoeira but she also have been practicing for seven years for other reasons. “The physical challenge—I always did sports—and being able to be involved in martial arts that incorporates music is a big factor,” said Najembe, adding that she is an administrator for a non-profit organization.


She continued: “Even though, culturally, capoeira is a martial art invented by slaves, here in New York you will notice that most practitioners are not black. Some of that has to do with access. This is not cheap. And some of it has to do with exposure … and some people feeling that they don’t have the physical capacity to do this.”


Capoeira is strenuous. It makes you sweat.


“It’s good exercise and a small community with so much to offer,” said Beci Conant, 28, a bartender who has been practicing capoeira for more than two years.


Capoerista Colibri, whose capoeira name is Lua, which means moon in Portuguese, started studying the martial art when she was 14. Now a capoeira brown belt—the second highest of 11 belts designating a person’s skill level—she did not become a well-known teacher by accident. “You’re training, practicing and, automatically, for this to become your profession, you teach … You learn the language and the culture. You become well-rounded in capoeira.”


On Twitter @ShaquilaGriszell.

Street Performer’s Antics Offend Some, Entertain Others


The Great Perfarter knows that people think he is a raving lunatic. But there is a method to his madness, he said.

“I was always attracted to what David Letterman, Tom Green and Andy Kaufman did on the street,” the Perfarter said, referring to those comedians,  “the crazy man on the street who was always entertaining … [the] trickster.”

His bag of tricks includes farting sounds, running around with purple-blue dye on his bearded face or in only his briefs and a cage made out of bamboo.   It’s his way of “opening … up a portal,” said the Perfarter, one among the hordes of musicians, magicians, jugglers, dancers and assorted other amateur and professional artists who perform on the streets of New York City,

The New Jersey native whose real name is Matthew Silver said he hopes that portal leads his audiences to a place where they feel it’s OK to lighten up.

“My motivation is to make people laugh. I do talk about love a lot. I do feel like love is the most important thing,” said the Perfarter, also known as the Man In the White Dress. “I dance with people … I’m trying to preach about love. But I don’t want to sound too serious, so, after I say ‘love,’ I then make a fart sound to make myself sound less serious.”

Reactions to that vary.

Taylor Cole, 23, is a Perfarter fan.  “A typical reaction is ‘He has mental issues,’” she said. “I feel as if that guy is a comic genius … like he is a mad scientist.”

“My initial impression,” said Richard Clarke, 28, after watching the Perfarter perform recently in Union Square “was that he’s a schizophrenic. I think it’s an act and it takes a lot of energy. It involves a lot of creativity and energy.”

That energy bothers some. “He’s sketching me out,” said Fred Smith, 20, quickly walking away from as the Perfarter approached and dismissing him with that slang word for “creeping.”

The Perfarter’s Web site shows videos of what he calls real-life reactions to his on-the-street antics. One guy punched him. One woman ran as he, in a white dress with fake blood stains on the front, made sounds mimicking flatulence and chanted, “Got to go to work, got to make money,” over and over. “These are the winds of change.”

In a city where residents’ stress levels are higher than they should be—5.3 on a scale of 10, rather than 3.7, which the American Psychological Association deems healthy—the Perfarter believes he is helping people calm down.

“I like when people have a guttural laugh and can’t stop laughing. My ego says ‘I did that, I made that person laugh,’” he said.

“Do you get money doing that?” is a question he often gets when he tells people he is a street performer. He rakes in anywhere from $5 to $20 an hour. “There hasn’t been a consistent average,” he said.

His other job is as a professional wedding video editor, which helps compensate for what he doesn’t earn performing.

But money isn’t what drives him, said the Perfarter, who posts his performance date, locations and times on Twitter. “The Hopi Indian tribe has a clown,” he said. “There is a realistic need for a clown in a society because it’s a way of making fun of the serious and loosening up the world.”

On Twitter @JournalistRaisa.

Eco-entrepreneurs Wedded to Business Model, Mission

Whether on a bicycle or skateboard, customers arriving by energy-saving transportation at Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery’s five locations get a special discount on their order.

“It’s designed to create an incentive for the customers. They do something good for the environment and we give them a financial award,” said Maury Rubin, 52, head baker and owner of Birdbath, whose electricity is fired by wind power.

At each of Birdbath—one each in Tribeca, The Bowery and Soho and two in the East Village—“it’s all about making decisions that are good for the Earth,” he said.

Rubin and other Eco-focused entrepreneurs, including Rhea Alexander, founder of Duchamp’s Irreverent Guiding Spirit, are sticking to their Eco-business plans, despite the seeming indifference of some American consumers to their sometimes higher-priced products. (A Duchamp’s tissue box cover made of recycled industrials from Egypt that have been compounded and polished into stone, is $150. A Birdbath blueberry-corn muffin $3.50—mere pennies to some, but a lot of money to others.)

Especially during this Recession, Americans have been less likely to go green. Between 2009 and 2010, Americans’ embrace of “going green” declined in a range of areas, from installing a low-flow shower-head to making an effort to use less water to buying a hybrid or other type of fuel-efficient car.

That trend does not faze Rubin or Alexander.

Duchamp’s Irreverent Guiding Spirit—DIGS, for short—is forging ahead with its now 2-year-old e-commerce site, said Alexander, who started the East Village-based business in 1990 and will only give her age as 40-plus. She said all of her products are made from “recyclable, sustainable, organic or re-purposed” materials, imported from developing and under-developed countries.

“It’s my favorite part of the business,” Alexander said. “By having strategic relationships with organizations that share our views and mission, they help us in-country and here locally get the word out to consumers and artisans alike.” Like Alexander, Rubin said he has tried to maintain his vision for an Eco-minded business. Beyond giving discounts to skateboarders and cyclists, he himself models alternative modes of transportation. Goods from the main kitchen are transported to the Birdbath shops by rickshaw; they are subsidiaries to City Bakery in the Flatiron District.

Rubin said he spends 20 percent more on ingredients than other, non-organic bakeries. But, he adds, “Quality is the No. 1 thing. Always that’s the most important thing … It means doing things that are good for the Earth, using energy carefully, getting our staff to use energy carefully, using raw materials—and talking about all these things with customers.”

New Business Sells Filtered Water, Touts Health Benefits

The Molecule Project sells filtered and supplement-infused water.

 By Janiece Montas

Staff writer

What the Molecule Project doesn’t do is sell flavored water. Co-owner Adam Ruhr makes that point clear off the top. In fact, the minerals and vitamins he dumps into the water he sells from a new East Village store does not taste so great.

Drinking it, though, Ruhr said, benefits skin, hair, nails and the body’s immune system and boosts energy levels. That’s how Ruhr and co-owner Alexander Venet are pitching their new product to potential customers of the East Tenth Street store that opened on July 19.

“The idea started with my visiting a water store slightly similar to this one on the West Coast,” Ruhr said. “The genesis of the idea originated in California, and then I elaborated on it.”

For $2.50, a customer walks away from Molecule with a 16-ounce glass bottle of what the partners said is filter-tapped water. The supplements that muddy the water cost extra.

Aubrey Levitt, 29, paid $4 for her specially ordered blend. While Ruhr got the idea in California, Los Angeles native Levitt said she’d never ventured inside such a place. She learned about the East Village store through an article in The Wall Street Journal. I don’t know of “anything similar to Molecule,” she said.

Though this reporter met only one customer during one-hour waits over three separate days, the owners said that, for them, traffic is pretty good far.

“It takes a certain amount of education to understand water quality issues and the impact on health and wellness,” Ruhr said.

On Twitter @JanieceMontas.

Restoration Aims to Benefit Historic Church, Community

Towards the back of the church, the restoration continues.


By Deisy Hurtado
Staff writer

Parts of Grace Church, which was built of marble in 1808, were crumbling even before the Rev. Donald Waring was hired in 2004 as pastor of the East Village congregation.

“The organ,” he said, “had given up the ghost.”

That instrument was no longer making the pretty music that had helped make Grace Church a popular community spot, even for people who were not its members. “It is a space the community loves,” said Waring, who is overseeing a multimillion-dollar restoration, begun in 2008, that aims to bring back that community feel and much of the original beauty to the building. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“You could come in here at lunch, and you’d find everyone here: NYU professors, the homeless … and Bach’s music is in the background,” Waring said.

On any given Sunday during the last few years, Waring has updated his congregation on the restoration’s progress. One Sunday in July 2012, he was particularly pleased to mention that the church’s pipe organ, which is being stripped, cleaned, tuned and reassembled by a company in Virginia, would be back in place in the choir loft by the fall. After that, the full choir will resume its Sunday morning ministry in song.

“The use of music to promote worship is a very important thing in this particular church,” said soloist Kiri Parker, a classically trained singer from Britain who was the only chorister on that Sunday in July.

Not only is the music important at Grace, Parker said, but the church also has a range of programs designed to keep the congregation active in many areas. The Grace Opportunity Project assists low-income, under-performing Manhattan schoolkids. The church operates a homeless shelter for men, a day care center and mission trips to the Third WorId and locations in the United States that have suffered tragedy.

Though legally separated from the church since 2006, Grace Church School was founded by the Episcopalian congregation and enrolls kindergarten through eighth-grade students. Grace’s Open Door project enrolls volunteers who provide tours and answer questions about the church for tourists and other visitors on weekends.

A church with that level of activity must maintain its physical structure and appearance, which is what the restoration is all about. The marble, which gave in to environmental and other pressures, will be replaced with more durable limestone, Waring said.

An already installed system of climate control—also part of the restoration—will protect the limestone. The temporary scaffolding and fencing eventually will come down. Peeling paint will be scraped off and those surfaces repainted. Floors will be reinforced and columns put in place to support the structure, including the tens of thousands of stained glass pieces that make up the church’s windows, depicting stories and people in the Bible.

“Grace is an architectural treasure,” said Vamel Noel, 32, who’s been attending the church about three months. Maintaining the church “is a sign of reverence.”

On Twitter @JournalistDeisy.


Where Scavenging Recyclables is Outlawed, Scavengers Earn Cash

 By R.J. Rubio
Staff Writer


Standing in the pouring rain at the corner of East Fourth Street and Avenue A, Hector Reyes, 51, was razor-focused on the task at hand, shoveling bottles and cans into the machines imprinted with “Redeem 5¢.”

Scavenging for recyclable containers that other people throw away is popular among the less fortunate such as Reyes. That population has increased during the Recession and he, for one, couldn’t help but notice, said Reyes, who lives in the Bronx but concentrates his scavenging on Manhattan neighborhoods below 23rd Street.

“I just go through the garbage bags and take whatever I need,” Reyes said. “Not only the cans and bottles, but I also find real nice s—. Watches, jewelries, cameras, you won’t believe the things that people throw out.”

The goal is to load his shopping carts with mounds of plastic, glass bottles and cans, then cash them in.

However necessary this activity seems for Reyes, New York City officially outlaws sifting through trash that is placed curbside for Department of Sanitation pick-up. Regulation §16-118(7)(b) reads like this: “Except for an authorized employee or agent of the DSNY, it shall be unlawful for any person to disturb, remove, or transport any amount of recyclable material left curbside for collection of removal by the Department.”

Fines for breaking the law range from $100 to $300.

“The unlawful removal of recyclables adversely impact the productivity of sanitation workers since the material that is set out by the city’s residents is often poached at various intervals and amounts,” Ron Gonen, deputy commissioner for sanitation, sustainability and recycling, wrote in an e-mail reply to this reporter

Scavenging, he continued, diminishes the effectiveness of city recycling efforts, including the city’s ability to keep track of worker productivity and costs.

Unlawful poaching also cuts into income the city generates by selling recyclables.

Department officials have drafted a bill that would step up enforcement of the anti-scavenging law and impose criminal penalties on law-breakers.

People such as Reyes object to the city’s policy and the suggestion that they are stealing what’s been left out as trash. “My father taught me not to steal, that’s just not how we were raised.” Reyes said. “I mean, I make $800 a month. This is how I support my wife and our smoking habits.”

On Twitter @RJRubioo.

With Concrete As a Canvas, Sand Painter Pours Out His Art

First, Joe Mangrum sets up his boundaries, using four plastic buckets to roughly mark off a square. He rests a ringed binder filled with photographs of his artwork on a table he’s set up nearby. Then, he gets to work.

From a dozen or so Ziploc storage bags, he grabs handfuls of sand dyed in colors of the rainbow and begins pouring it out, creating paintings that tend, he said, to find their own way. “It’s a very spontaneous process. I just start with a dot in the center and, from the center out, create designs off the fly,” said Mangrum, 43, who transforms New York City pavement into art each week. 

When he was 8, Mangrum’s mother enrolled him in his first painting class. He continued that pursuit, taking art courses in high school and studying at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he spent four years traveling across Europe and the United States, exploring different art forms.

At the end of that leg of his journey, he settled in San Francisco. “It was a free and liberating place where people could be themselves,” Mangrum said. He stayed for the next 15 years, making a name for himself and gaining a following.

“It is the performative aspect of his work that is amazing,” said David McFadden, curator at the Museum of Art and Design, where Mangrum’s work is in the current “Swept Away” exhibit. “Our museum strives to reveal artistic transformation through materials and process, and Joe is a prime example of that transformative action.”

Auto parts, ceramic tiles, bricks and random household products were among the media with which Mangrum experimented before stumbling, he said, upon sand-only as a medium. Arriving in New York in 2006 solidified that.

“There was a lack of space and it was expensive to use other materials at first,” Mangrum said. “I had lost the networks I created in California, which made doing street paintings the most viable way of showing off my work.”

Mangrum’s sand pieces are done strictly by hand and require more than five hours to finish, he said. He purposely infuses his work with symbols such as plants, DNA strands and sea creatures to “bring a connection to the planet and find universal symbols that affect everyone,” Mangrum said. “People are naturally connected to nature but don’t realize how distant they are from it.”

Curator McFadden said he chose to feature Mangrum in the “Swept Away” exhibit, showcasing artists working with nontraditional materials, after viewing his work online and seeing it in Central Park. It is Mangrum’s first showing at the Museum of Art and Design, though his resume includes being spotlighted at a variety of venues. He and his work were on a Sesame Street episode. The All Points West Festival in Jersey City, N.J.’s Liberty State Park and Coachella Festival in Indio, Calif., commissioned him for installations. For Fashion Week 2010 in New York City, he did a sand painting for designer Jen Kao’s runway show.

“It is a great honor to be recognized by the art community,” Mangrum said. “It gives me the opportunity to share with the public and is a sign that I can do more as my career goes on.”

On Twitter @Han_Eric.

“Planting Peace” Sets Down Roots In New York

When they hand out cups of water to passersby on Saturdays, volunteers with Planting Peace are doing more than helping people quench their thirst.

“We give out free water to help with the heat situation. It attracts people to our stand,” said Aaron Jackson, 30, the organization’s president and co-founder.

Their stand is a table, set up that day in Washington Square Park and covered with pamphlets detailing how Planting Peace is addressing a range of issues confronting the poor, sick, orphans and other human beings and preserving the Earth.

“So far, we’ve planted 1 million trees,” in 10 nations, including the United States, Jackson said. Protecting environmentally endangered rain forests also is one of their goals.

Founded in Orlando, Fla., in 2004, Planting Peace this year moved its headquarters to more heavily populated New York City. That will help raise the group’s visibility, including among the Big Apple’s hordes of tourists, organizers said.

One of those organizers is Robert Gisser, 20, Planting Peace’s field manager. He left a previous, paid position in corporate marketing to do more meaningful work as a volunteer, Gisser said.

“We’re out here for a cause so why do we need to get paid these extra amounts of money when we’re trying to help kids?” Gisser said. “That’s our goal. We’re here to do charity work.”

Daniel Lord, 17, finds that sense of mission appealing.

“I might be looking to volunteer,” said Lord, who checked out the Planting Peace pamphlets and chatted with Jackson on that recent day in Washington Square Park.

Planting Peace volunteers told Lord that curing one child of deadly intestinal worms costs about 1.5 cents, a fact that surprised him, Lord said.

Planting Peace started its “Stomp the Worm” project in 2005, according to the non-profit group’s Web site, to tackle that problem, which is widespread in certain impoverished parts of the world. The project was profiled by CNN in 2007.

Jackson’s first encounter with worms, the most common infection affecting deprived communities worldwide, began during a 2004 trip to Haiti.

“I happened to find money in my pocket and chose a child to de-worm there,” said Jackson, recalling that he found lone $20 bill in the pockets of old pair of jeans while there. It was the first money he spent on de-worming.

“The mother of the child came up to me and told me her child would have passed away if I didn’t help. She was crying, I was crying.”

Planting Peace aims to de-worm one million children each month.

On Twitter @Abby_Weinstein.